PreLaw - Back to School 2010 - 46
What to know before you go
BY HILLARY MANTIS, ESQ.
still remember my first week of law school. I expected it to be kind of like college, but harder. I was an English major and loved research and writing, so I wasn’t all that worried. I remember lugging my newly purchased casebooks home from the bookstore and opening my Contracts book. I read the first page. Total gobbledygook. It seemed to be directed to someone from another planet and made almost no sense to me. “What have I done?” I groaned to myself. A few weeks into law school, thankfully it began to make much more sense. Now, older but wiser, I think back to those days frequently when I’m advising my pre-law students. Nowadays, I advise them about where and how to apply to law school, but I also try to prepare them for law school itself. “It’s not all like legal TV shows,” I caution them. “Have you ever worked for a law firm? Read a casebook?” I often ask. Sometimes I send them down to our combined college/law school campus bookstore, so they can see for themselves what the casebooks look like. I want them to know how they can hit the ground running during their first year of law school. Here’s what I tell them: 1) Read a casebook, take a pre-law course or work for a legal employer before you go to law school. You don’t have to take pre-law courses, read a casebook or work for a law firm before law school. It’s by no means a strict admissions requirement. You can study whatever you wish and still be a good candidate. But for your own sake, please try to have some idea of what lawyers do all day, and what law students study. Look at the casebooks, talk to lawyers or friends in law school, try to find a summer job in a law firm or work as a paralegal before you go to law school. It’s hard to actually know what lawyers do and what law students study unless you delve into their world a little bit, before you take the leap yourself. 2) First year grades in law school can be important. “Why do I have to worry about that so much?” Jack, a pre-law student asked me, looking puzzled. Jack had not done well fresh46
man year, but by the time he graduated his GPA had soared. I was trying to explain why in law school it can be important to do well academically right from the start. “Because some of law firm recruiting is largely based on first year grades,” I explained. “Especially if you want to work for a large corporate law firm.” The way most law schools are set up, there is what’s called an “Early Interview Week,” which does happen very early — usually in August after your first year of law school. The big firms come to recruit, largely looking at students with top first year grades and Law Review. (Law Review is a prestigious legal journal that you can get on through good grades or try to write your way onto after your first year of law school.) If you have top grades and land a big firm offer early in your second year of law school, you will be a summer associate at the firm, and hopefully get asked back for a permanent position after law school. Although the current economy has put a damper on law firm hiring, it’s good to be prepared for when it (hopefully) bounces back. I am by no means an advocate of students only considering large firms in their careers, but if that’s what your dream is, or you need to earn a lot of money to pay back your loans, you might want to aim for top grades during your first year of law school. 3) Be really ready for law school. I’m always trying to convince my pre-law students to consider taking a year off before applying to law school. Why? In some cases, because I’m encouraging them to try to up their LSAT score or their GPA. In other cases, they are just not ready, academically or socially. All the stars should be in alignment when you start law school. You should be in a good place, mentally. You also need to be refreshed and really ready (dare I say eager) to hit the books. Some of us find out the hard way that law school requires many hours of study — every day. Cramming just doesn’t work. You need to read and outline cases and be ready for the humbling Socratic Method, Continued on page 45